It’s been a busy week, but I managed to sneak in a quick movie (in gradual bite-sized chunks at the end of each day) which I wanted to tell you about.
JUAN OF THE DEAD (original title Juan de los Muertos) is a 2011 Cuban-Spanish co-production which was billed as Cuba’s first horror movie. It’s a fairly by-the-numbers zombie comedy about a couple of slackers… so far, so Shaun, but the unique setting and the sentiment will make JUAN of interest to zombie completists.
The blurb: Juan is a slacker trying to reconnect with his daughter, who plans to rejoin her mother in Miami. Lazaro, Juan’s friend, is trying to connect with his own son, a persistent womanizer. They begin to notice that locals are “going crazy”, killing people and eating their flesh, and the recently deceased are returning to life. The Cuban government and the media claim that the zombies are dissidents revolting against the government. Juan starts a business to profit off of killing the zombies, but the group may soon find their own lives at risk.
On one hand, JUAN OF THE DEAD is instantly familiar: a group of bumbling anti-heroes, a mysterious infection, plenty of gruesome zombie killings… but the fact this is a Cuban zombie movie makes all the difference. For me it’s a film of interesting contrasts. The Havana backdrop appears both crumbling and beautiful (even before the apocalypse). The characters, whilst obviously living within the confines of the unique Cuban social and political system, are generally (though not always) easy to identify with. The movie feels trapped in time to an extent, yet is also quite clued-up (there’s a fast/slow zombie discussion, for example).
The plot is nothing we haven’t seen before, but JUAN OF THE DEAD is well filmed and belies its low budget. Though there are some great scenes (a mass zombie beheading being an obvious highlight) CGI is overused and the humour falls flat almost as often as it hits the mark. Those gripes apart, it’s a confident and well-paced movie, and I have little more to say than that. The cast give spirited performances and the ending, accompanied by Sid Vicious’ inimitable interpretation of My Way, is unexpectedly poignant.
The bottom line – if you’re interested in doing a spot of zombie movie sightseeing, then a visit to Cuba with JUAN OF THE DEAD is recommended. It’s widely available on DVD (US/UK) and VOD. I think you’ll probably have forgotten much of it once the (excellently visualised) end credits have finished rolling, but I’m sure you’ll have enjoyed the ride. Good, politically incorrect, blood-splattered fun!